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  • Sara Scherbakov-Coutts

Hack Your Hormonal Cycle



OUR CYCLES ARE A GIFT

Did you know that in every phase of your cycle you have unique strengths and gifts? It’s true! We’ve been taught to believe that our monthly cycle is a nuisance, but it actually is a powerful tool that can empower us in our day to day lives. Our hormones provide us with unique advantages in all areas of our lives including work, relationships, creativity, exercise and more!


WHY DO WE BELIEVE OUR CYCLES ARE A NUISANCE?

The short answer: cultural conditioning. Women’s bodies have been underrepresented in the scientific literature, and it’s only until recently that we’ve begun to dig deeper to understand our unique biology. The result of this lack of understanding has been women’s hormonal health issues being labeled “normal”, pushed aside, and often masked with pharmaceuticals like the pill.


But believe it or not, problem periods and PMS are not normal, and when we do the work to balance our hormones and our cycles, we’re able to take advantage of the unique gifts provided to us from week to week.


YOUR 28-DAY INFRADIAN RHYTHM

You may have heard of the 24-hour circadian rhythm, but did you know your body also follows a second clock, called the 28-day infradian rhythm? This 28-day clock contains the 4 phases of your cycle: the follicular, ovulatory, luteal and menstrual phases.


Each phase can feel very different due to natural fluctuations in hormones, which is why you might feel like a completely different person from week to week (no, it’s not all in your head!)


THE PHASES OF YOUR CYCLE


THE FOLLICULAR PHASE

7-10 days long

This is Day 1 of your cycle, the day directly after your bleed ends. Your hormones at the start are quiet, but eventually follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen levels begin to rise. Behaviourally, the follicular phase is a time of a fresh start. The hormonal effect on the brain is one of openness to new things, creativity and new beginnings.


THE OVULATORY PHASE

3-4 days long

This next phase sees a dramatic rise in estrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH), and a temporary surge of testosterone as well. Thanks to these combinations of hormones, this phase is a time of feeling outgoing, social and communicative. This is a great time to schedule activities that require verbal and social skills, like presentations, important conversations, or even scheduling dates and time spent with friends.


THE LUTEAL PHASE

10-14 days long

This is the longest phase, and is roughly divided into two parts. In the first half of the luteal phase, progesterone, estrogen and testosterone reach their peak levels. In the second half, if no pregnancy has occurred, then progesterone, estrogen and testosterone will plummet. This is the phase where we will see PMS if there is too much estrogen in relation to progesterone. As our hormones decrease in this phase, you will feel a drive to turn inward and finish projects you may have started earlier in your cycle.


THE MENSTRUAL PHASE

3-7 days long

In the menstrual phase, progesterone levels drop off, while estrogen peaks and plummets right before your bleed starts. This is a restful phase, making it an ideal time for reflection and looking inward. The low levels of hormones also help to allow communication between both hemispheres of the brain, including your analytical and emotional side, so set aside time to reflect on what is and is no longer working. A great question to ask yourself during this time: “Is what I thought I wanted still feeling good/serving me?”


FOOD FOR EACH PHASE


FOLLICULAR PHASE FOODS

Your metabolism is slower in the follicular phase, so think of eating more fresh, light foods like veggies, beans, sprouts, seeds, nutrient-dense proteins and fermented foods. Examples: kimchi, sauerkraut, zucchini, carrots, string beans, oats, broccoli, carrot, peas, lettuce, avocado, citrus, green lentils, barley, rye, brazil nuts, cashews, eggs, nut butter, chicken, fish


OVULATORY PHASE FOODS

Your body can digest raw food the best during the ovulatory phase, so opt for salads, smoothies, raw veggies, fruit, light grains and fiber-rich foods. These foods also support estrogen detoxification during this phase to avoid symptoms of estrogen dominance, like acne. Examples: bell peppers, brussels sprouts, chard, spinach, tomato, figs, berries, apricot, quinoa, amaranth, corn, asparagus, eggplant, red lentils, almonds, pecans, pistachios, chicken, fish, lamb


LUTEAL PHASE FOODS

Your metabolism naturally speeds up while digestion slows down during this phase, so we need to eat more calories and high-fibre foods to stay balanced. Slow-burning carbohydrates are great here as they can help you avoid sugar cravings from PMS. Examples: brown rice, sweet potato, soy, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, pears, pumpkin, squash, dates, banana, chickpeas, apples, mango, walnuts, fish, beef, turkey, chicken, sesame


MENSTRUAL PHASE FOODS

When your hormone levels are at their lowest it’s great to include more proteins and fats to keep energy and moods stable. Nutrient-dense foods you eat will set you up for a healthier ovulation next cycle and make up for the micronutrients lost through bleeding. Examples: buckwheat, wild rice, kidney beans, black beans, adzuki beans, blueberries, blackberries, beets, seaweed, kale, mushrooms, water chestnuts, all seafood, all red meat *Foods great for all phases: pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, superfoods and bone broth. *Caffeine is not recommended in your luteal or menstrual phases, when cortisol levels are already very high. You will likely find you need less caffeine during this second half of your cycle. *These foods are beneficial to each phase, but they are by no means rules! They are suggestions for you to increase your intake to help support your hormonal phases.


EXERCISE FOR EACH PHASE


FOLLICULAR PHASE EXERCISES

In the first few days after your bleed has finished, your energy slowly rises and your body responds efficiently to metabolism boosting exercises that build lean muscle. Examples: running, biking, dance, hiking, jumping rope


OVULATORY PHASE EXERCISES

With estrogen and testosterone at peak levels you’ll have more energy to burn, making this the best phase for more intense workouts. Examples: intervals, HIIT, indoor cycling, boot-camp, kickboxing


LUTEAL PHASE EXERCISES

During the first half of the luteal phase, you’ll still have high estrogen and testosterone, but with progesterone as well, making high-impact activities harder and strength training more ideal. In the second half of the luteal phase hormones begin to diminish, making it the best time for flexibility exercises. Cortisol begins to naturally rise during this phase, so it’s important to begin managing stress and to turn down the intensity of your exercises. Examples: first half: strength training, second half: yoga, pilates, barre


MENSTRUAL PHASE EXERCISES

When your hormone levels are at their lowest, so are your energy levels. Any high-intensity training during this phase will backfire by turning on fat storage and muscle wasting. Cortisol is naturally higher during this phase, so it’s important we don’t add to our levels of stress on the body. Restorative activities are best during this phase. Examples: walking, gentle yoga, light pilates, breath work, rest (yes, rest is just as important and can even help you lose weight in the long run!)


WANT TO LEARN MORE?

When we begin learning about what is happening to our body throughout our cycle, it starts to click for us why we feel so different from phase to phase - it’s because we really are different, on a biochemical level! We have various strengths in every phase, and we can be more efficient, productive and feel less stressed when we live in line with what each phase requires.


If you’re struggling with a hormonal imbalance or feel like you could use support in mastering the different phases of your cycle, consider booking a free 15 minute phone consultation today. I can help you balance your hormones so that you can fully access the gifts each phase has to offer, including guidance for work, creativity and relationships from phase to phase.


I also recommend reading Alisa Vitti’s book In the Flo as a starting point, and tracking your cycle with an app like P.C.



REFERENCES

1. Vitti, A., ed. (2020) In the flo: unlock your hormonal advantage and revolutionize your life. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins

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